Herb Garden Basics: The Tasty Essentials Every Home Cook Should Grow
Never run out of parsley again. Or basil. Or thyme. Or cilantro. Or...
If you eat, you should eat herbs—they bring a ridiculous variety of fresh zing to every dish they’re cooked into or sprinkled atop. And if you eat herbs, you should plant an herb garden, ensuring you have instant access to high-quality ingredients without a trip to the grocery store. But which herbs should you grow in your garden? We’re here with answers! (As always, pay attention to which gardening zone you live in to see your average sun exposure, rainfall, and climate patterns, so your herbs will have a good shot at thriving.)
Table of Contents
- The 10 Essential Herbs
- Beyond Basic Basil
- Timeless Sage
- Thyme After Thyme
- Say Yes To Oregano
- French Twists
- Asian Essentials
- Mexican Essentials
- Friendly Flowers
The 10 Essential Herbs
No surprises here: These herbs are all-stars, power players, timeless green heroes of the kitchen, prominent in dishes from every continent and cuisine. You are probably already eating tons of these, so grow more—and you can eat more.
Beyond Basic Basil
Basil is most famous in Italian cuisine—for pesto, for caprese, for garnishing pizzas and pastas—but basil is not just basil: Certain varieties make better pesto, others are ideal for Southeast Asian dishes. The thing that unites them is that addictive sweet-spicy flavor—and how easy it is to grow them. Grab a plant from your local grocery store and sit it against a kitchen windowsill as a friendly reminder to incorporate it in your dishes. We like to consume our basil as a vinaigrette, with shrimp or chicken, as a gimlet, compote, and more.
You’d Be Wise to Plant Sage
Sage is one of our favorite herbs for its fragrance alone. Sometimes burned to warn off bad spirits, sage has held a special place in people’s hearts since ancient times. Musky, earthy leaves are staples in poultry stuffing, Italian meat dishes, and salads in the Middle East. It’s also one of the easiest herbs to grow!
Thyme After Thyme
For some of us (i.e., me), thyme is the scent of Thanksgiving. Perhaps that’s because its tiny, heavily scented leaves are ideal for roasting, for flavoring soups, for adding liveliness to well-cooked anything. (And it does that in spring and summer, too!) Thyme loves the sun, so make sure to plant it in a bright spot.
Say Yes to Oregano
If you like pizza—and of course you like pizza—you like oregano: If it’s not in the sauce, it’s probably in a canister on your table, ready to sprinkle. But oregano has more uses than that—it’s common in Spanish and Mexican cuisine, too.
French cuisine includes herbs that have mild flavors to enhance ingredients ranging from poultry to greens. Often included in blends, the herbs typically channel licorice and complement sharp, acidic flavors. Our favorite ways to use French herbs are with eggs, in salad dressings, and paired with cheeses.
These herbs are used across Southeast and East Asia, particularly in dishes that require citrus or sharp spices. The herbs’ flavors are hard to replicate and pair well with vegetarian dishes as well as in rice and grains. Be sure to grow in warm climates as they don’t tolerate cold weather as well.
Many Mexican dishes highlight earthy, full-bodied, and spicy flavors, and practically require herbs for balance. Many of the most popular herbs come from desert or tropical regions and grow best in full sun with porous soil. These pair well with fish, poultry, and salsas.
Primarily for decoration, these make for beautiful garnishes and add color to dishes. Because they can require more controlled environments to avoid overpopulation, you can grow flowers indoors and harvest when in bloom.
Quick ways to use EVEN MORE herbs
Cocktail. For a zingy cocktail, mash mint leaves with minced ginger, lime juice, and ice. Add light rum, shake well, then strain into a collins glass and top with ginger beer.
Soup. Add makrut lime leaf and lemon basil to chicken and rice soup. Sprinkle with sliced chiles and fresh cilantro leaves for a Thai version of the classic.
Sandwich. Mix chervil, dill, and tarragon into mayonnaise with minced red onion and celery. Stir mixture into chopped roasted chicken and serve on toasted croissants.
Side. Fold chopped sage and blue cheese into mashed potatoes. Sprinkle with chopped toasted hazelnuts.
Main. Top a piece of snapper or black cod with salsa verde, cilantro, and epazote leaves. Wrap the seasoned fish in an hoja santa leaf and rub the outside with oil. Grill until the fish feels firm. Serve with rice and beans.
Where to Buy Herb Seeds and Seedlings
Mountain Valley Growers. An excellent site for organic seedlings, including 17 varieties of mint.
Kitazawa Seed Company. This company based in Oakland, California, specializes in Asian herbs and vegetable seeds, including five varieties of shiso.
Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company. This source has earned a dedicated cult following for its more than 1,400 unusual seeds.
Companion Plants. Sells seeds and plants of unusual herbs, including hoja santa.